The original fort was built in 1864-65 by the Federal Government.
Construction was started by Colorado volunteers under General Sam Brown, and it was initially called Camp Tyler. The majority of construction was done by "galvanized rebels" under the command of a Captain Williams. The camp's name changed to Camp Ward well at this time. "Galvanized rebels" were confederate soldiers released from prison under the condition that they join the union army and move west to fight the Indians. Once the fort was completed and the buildings erected, a detachment of Federal soldiers from the Missouri Cavalry under Lt. Col. Willard Smith moved in and the camp was finally christened "Fort Morgan" in honor of Col. Christopher A. Morgan.
Fort Morgan was built to protect the mail service and immigrants along the Overland Trail. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians were raiding along the eastern slope and especially along the South Platte River in response to the continued diminished of their traditional hunting grounds due to white settlers and in revenge for the Sand Creek Massacre.
The fort was located on a plateau about a half mile from the river, which was called "Morgan Flats" This plateau would be in approximately the same location as today's Municipal Skate Park and Tennis Courts on Railroad Avenue in Fort Morgan. This location afforded a wide view of the countryside up and down the river valley and a clear view of the North side of the river. Fort Morgan stood as the only military presence between Julesburg and the more populated areas along the mountains. Fort Morgan was known as "Fort Morgan Cut Off" of the Overland Trail, since it was the point where the trail left the river and headed across the plains directly to Denver.
The fort was about the size of one square city block. It had twenty buildings inside the compound surrounding a large parade ground with a flagpole n the middle. The buildings were made of sod and adobe and had log roofs. There was no stockade around the fort since it was large enough to withstand an attack without one. The fort usually had one to six companies, or 200 to 1200 men, occupying it at one time. The fort also housed three cannons on the Northeast and Southwest sides.
The presence of Fort Morgan acted as a deterrent to large-scale Indian attacks in the immediate vicinity, since the troops offered protection to travelers from one fort to another and subdued the Indians and returned them to the reservation. The fort also acted as a gathering place for wagons traveling west, though this sometimes caused hard feelings with the travelers since they were not allowed to leave the fort until at least 30 armed men had gathered.
When the Indian uprisings ended and the Union Pacific completed its rail line from North Platt, Nebraska to Cheyenne, Wyoming, the need for Fort Morgan became virtually non-existent. The troops, under the command of Gen. K.E. True and Captain John Powell, lowered the flag and, along with the three cannons and 100 wagons, moved on to Fort Laramie. The buildings and movable material were sold at auction, and all other material was used by ranchers and settlers in the area. Today there is no visible remains of the fort left in the area.
Throughout most of the 1870's, between the time of the fort and the time of the town, the biggest activity in the area was raising cattle and sheep. Many small ranches were established along the South Platte River and the many creeks that fed into it. A number of large ranches were established east of Fort Morgan on the vast prairies of buffalo grass.
In the early 1880's the area around Fort Morgan was finally settled. The Union Pacific and Missouri rail lines approached from the east. Irrigation canals and ideas of irrigation farming approached from the west. During this time, a canal was built from the Platte River to irrigate the bottom lands along the river basin in Weldon Valley. This canal provided irrigation water for over 8000 acres of land and acted as inspiration for those who wanted to farm the fertile uplands, too.
This brings us to Abner S. Baker, the undisputed founder of Fort Morgan. In 1883, Baker began a project that included laying out a town site called Fort Morgan and digging a canal that would irrigate approximately 25,000 acres of the surrounding area. Baker, his family and his friends used the Homestead Act, the Timber Claims Acts and Preemption to file for land on and around the town site. Many of these lands were deeded back to Baker for resale after receipt of the title.
The canal was completed by 1884. In order to get the town a rail station (since the Union Pacific and Burlington & Missouri lines passed through the north and south sides of town), Baker had to deed every other pair of lots to the railroads. It was bribery, pure and simple, but it was the only way to get the station at the time. The railroads took the deeds, the station was put in, in the spring of 1884, a tent city called Fort Morgan was established.
During the summer of 1884, the first permanent buildings were started. Fort Morgan got its first doctor and The Fort Morgan Times newspaper was established. In January 1885, the first school was opened and in 1886 the first church, First Presbyterian Church, was built. The town continued to grow in slow but steady fashion from 1886 to 1890. Fort Morgan was incorporated in 1887 and elected its first mayor, M.E. Lowe, that year. In 1889, the state legislature form Morgan County from the eastern section of Weld County and made Fort Morgan the county seat.
The early 1890's saw the public schools and the public hall built. The first three-year high school was built in 1895 and had its first graduating class in 1896. In 1900 construction of the public utilities, government and community buildings and more schools began. In 1901 the town purchased lots for a downtown park. in 1903 it began construction of a water works system and in 1904 a public opera house was built.
Fort Morgan exemplified the pioneer spirit of the times and its progress and determination were noticed by those areas around it. This is best shown in 1905, when Republican President Theodore Roosevelt stopped his train in Fort Morgan and gave a short speech to over 1000 people.